Starting with the novels Children of the Age and Segelfoss Town, Hamsun severely criticized the decline of traditional society and the problems associated with modernization. This critique was continued in Growth of the Soil, in which Hamsun both wanted to show the full extent of the evils of the modern age and to offer his portrait of modernity against the backdrop of the story of a heroic homesteader, Isak Sellanraa.
Like some of the outsiders in Hamsun’s novels from the 1890’s, Isak has no history when he appears in the wilderness, looking for a place to settle. Hamsun emphasizes that his presence is as natural as that of the wild animals of the area, and shows that his premodern approach to living is both healthier and more natural than a life based on a monetary economy. Isak works hard, clearing land and building shelter for himself and his farm animals with simple hand tools, and his work is portrayed as more authentic than the mechanized and highly capitalized alternative.
As Isak’s farm grows and prospers, he is able to attract a woman, Inger, whose cleft lip makes her willing to settle for the strong but physically unattractive homesteader. Inger bears two healthy sons, Eleseus and Sivert, but her third child is a girl with a cleft lip. Worried that the child will have a miserable life, Inger gives birth to her in secret and kills her before anyone sees her. While she is generally unsentimental, Inger deeply...
(The entire section is 467 words.)